The weekend before last, I gave a talk in Akron at the second annual Sexy Secular Conference on the history of LGBT folks in societies dominated by Muslims. The title was Queerness and Islam: A Longer History Than You Think in deference to the fact that the non-cis and/or non-hetero side of history is often erased in popular discourse. Such erasure is especially prevalent in areas where very little in the way of LGBT rights and acceptance has been achieved, but is hardly limited to such regions.
The fact that LGBTQ people exist and always have existed seems to miss many. I found out just how much my talk was needed in the weeks leading up to and following the event. The response to the topic of my talk from the atheists of non-Muslim backgrounds to my talk was often, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
Whether meant in earnest or in jest, saying that there can be no such thing as an LGBT Muslim is to be complicit in harmful erasure that supports the hateful message of religious fundamentalists.
Throughout Islamic history, there have always been people who are not straight and/or not cis. The only reason Islam and the other Abrahamic faiths address LGBT people is that they existed to be addressed in the first place. Evidence of people outside of sexual, romantic, and/or gender norms can be found in nearly every single human culture that has ever existed. Pretending as if Islamic laws against being queer somehow managed to eradicate queerness is to presume that Islamic laws can somehow change fundamental human nature.
It was only recently that Western countries have begun to legally recognize and protect LGBT people — and even that process has been fraught and is far from being completed. Does that mean that LGBT people did not exist in Western countries until 30 years ago? I never hear that “joke” being made, interestingly enough.
How can someone be not-straight and/or not-cis and also a Muslim? The same way that someone can be LGBT and Christian: interpretation. Whether or not others agree with said interpretation is irrelevant to the fact that people identify as both theists and under the LGBT banner. Realistically speaking, if what we want is a more equal society, opposing those who are progressive and religious is hardly as important as opposing those who are regressive and religious (if the former is important at all).
In other words, calling people who do and have always existed “an oxymoron” is to agree with the very anti-LGBT religious types that most atheists claim are proof that religion is harmful. If atheists ally ourselves with the people who allegedly prove the claim that religion can cause harm, we don’t have a leg to stand on when we state our opposition to religion. Atheism is completely meaningless if it means simply eradicating theistic beliefs without reducing the harm that generally follows in their wake.